Jet lag and children

Jetlag: Sleepless from Seattle

This space is mostly about a family living life abroad and the joys of traveling with children. But anyone who has done it, knows that there are a few obstacles to overcome when you decide to tote little-ones (or yourself, for that matter) halfway around the world. Namely, obstacle numero uno: jetlag. It is a topic I get asked about a lot – people seem to fear having kids go through jetlag. I won’t sugar-coat it too much, but don’t let jetlag stop you from traveling internationally with your kids. Really, it’s not that bad….(as I yawn and refill my coffee cup).

The good news

You might get to enjoy a night tour of the Eiffel Tower or a late dinner with chipper kids who would normally be falling apart at that hour. (Instead they’ll just fall apart later.)

Besides, your kids will not be the only ones going through jetlag. You will have the pleasure of experiencing it yourself, so when they wake up at 2am, you’ll likely be wide awake and ready to deal with it.

Not helpful? Okay, fine – here are a few tips that might be.

Set your clock

This is one that most kids will have trouble with if they can’t tell time. As adults, our minds can play tricks on us, and although your body is telling you you’re tired, by looking at your watch, your mind will start to believe otherwise. So, at the beginning of the flight, set your clock to the local time of your destination. If you wait to set it when you get there, the shock factor sets in. I know it can’t be helped, but try not to constantly think about what time it is at your starting destination. Just set your clock and move on.

A stiff neck

If you are like me, sleeping on a plane is a joke. I envy the sitting-up snoozers around me (including my husband). But if you can sleep on the plane, do it… especially if you are going to arrive at your destination in the morning hours.

Kids seem to have an easier time with this since they can curl up in the seat and are accustomed to falling asleep in a car seat or stroller. Some things that might help you or your kids – an eye mask, a neck pillow and melatonin*. I was told by our doctor that my kids could take 1 mg of melatonin. I buy the kind that dissolves in your mouth.

Don’t forget to bring something familiar for your child to sleep with. Plus, a stuffed friend might come in handy when those airplane headsets don’t fit.

*Legal availability of melatonin varies in different countries, ranging from being available without prescription (e.g. in most of North America) to being available only on prescription or not at all (although its possession and use may not be illegal). In the UK it is available on prescription only. Source: Wikipedia

There is no such thing as a power-nap

Every rookie traveler has made the same mistake. You get off the plane, head to your hotel room and take a nap. After all, you deserve it after the long, uncomfortable flight, right? Maybe, but you won’t be doing yourself any favors. There is no such thing as a power-nap when your body thinks it is 3am. You will sleep, and you will sleep HARD, and not want to get up.

Push through the day as best you can and get to bed at a normal hour. This is the hardest one for kids. If you can, spend time outdoors and follow your regular schedule as closely as possible. If your child normally takes an afternoon nap, let them, but only allow them to sleep for a couple hours (or however-long they normally sleep for) and know that waking them up will be difficult.

This might be a time when bribery is not such a bad thing. We usually wake the girls up with an offer of chocolate milk, juice or ice-cream waiting for them. Note: this back-fired on us once when we took 2 stroller-sleeping kids to a small, quaint chalet in Iceland and decided to wake them up after ordering chocolate-covered waffles. The scene that ensued was not pretty. But we laugh about it now.

Eat light and use caffeine to your advantage

Many people experience a bit of an upset stomach when they travel. Although this can be due to experiencing new foods or a sensitivity to the water, it can also be due to the fact that your stomach is jetlagged too. You might not feel hungry at normal meal times as your body adjusts.

My kids normally don’t eat big meals, but when they are jetlagged they hardly want to eat at all. Serve meals and snacks at normal times and avoid midnight snacks, as this will make the adjustment take longer. Like using melatonin as a natural sleep enhancer, I use caffeine to help push me through the day.


Adjusting to jetlag is different depending on which direction you travel. East to west, tends to be a little easier. Especially if you arrive at your destination in the evening since you’ll only have a few hours to get through until bed time – although you’ll still wake up much too early. If possible, take a melatonin and go back to sleep and force yourself up at a normal hour.

When traveling west to east and arriving at your destination in the morning, it seems to take a little longer to adjust. Plan your trip so you don’t have a lot going on in the first few days.

We once (pre-kids) flew from the US to England and attended a wedding the evening we arrived. Bad move. Lesson learned.

Back on track

Right now, the girls are going to school and are dead tired when they get home. I try my very best to keep them awake until bed time by spoiling them with a movie during dinner, giving them a little sugar, letting them stay in the bath longer, etc. My oldest has been having very vivid dreams. That, plus jetlag have been waking her up in the middle of the night. Last night we gave her a melatonin at 2 am and that seemed to do the trick and they both slept until 7am.

Day 3 and I think we are getting back on track. Our bodies are amazing. It should only take 3-5 days to adjust and is it worth it? Always. We had a wonderful time visiting friends and family back home.

Republished with kind permission of Mandy via Jetlag: Sleepless from Seattle.

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